Invasion of the Body Hair

Today, Autumn wrote about The Conundrum of Body Hair. I’m chiming in.

I recently went about three months without shaving my underarms, two and a half months without shaving my legs. From October through the New Year, I grew increasingly fuzzy. The results looked something like this:

I say “something like this” because me and my camera take worthless photographs.

Various Disjointed Thoughts:

- Can you believe how little body hair I have? Three months of unchecked hair hardly looked ‘worse’ than one month’s growth, and some women could grow that much in a week. How many of us think we’re six times hairier than we are, but never find out what we’re really dealing with? I had a similar revelation with my Diva Cup; after years of using soooo many tampons every month, I was astounded to learn that my entire period consisted of about one ounce of blood, maybe an ounce and a half.  (Now I have a copper IUD, and can lose more than half an ounce per day. Story for another time.)

- Beauty privilege is a slippery and subjective thing. But in our current culture, being naturally semi-hairless seems like a HUGE beauty privilege. This is not without drawbacks; the same genes that leave me semi-hairless decree that I will never have thick, luxurious hair. Also,while invisible forearm hair is considered a plus, having invisible eyelashes can feel like a massive ‘beauty disadvantage.’

- The first week or two without shaving will be hardest, because stubble feels nasty. Once your body hair is soft and not prickly, it seems much less worrisome.

- During these months, I continued to wear tank tops and knee-length skirts, giving locals the chance to admire my fur. No one ever commented. I rarely felt self-conscious about my armpits, but did feel very strange sporting leg hair and high heels simultaneously.

- I dream of a world where visible body hair was not considered disgusting or careless, but just one more style choice— the way we no longer think twice about women wearing skirts OR trousers, or having short hair instead of long. Every time I grow out my body hair, it is with this conscious goal in mind.

- HOWEVER! People being what they are, I’m sure that even if all women had visible body hair, some body hair would be considered cooler or sexier than others, and companies would find news ways to capitalize on hair insecurities. Can you imagine full-body Latisse lotions? A return of the merkin?

- Personally, I’m biased in favor of dark, curly body hair. Why? Who knows?

- Even if having sparse body hair is a privilege of some kind, I think thicker body hair looks better; more deliberate, more like a ‘design element’ and less like an oversight.

- Speaking of privilege, I understand that being white and fairly thin make it easier for me to play around with cosmetic taboos than it might be for someone else. This was equally true of head-shaving.

- And speaking of shaved heads, my old electric clippers are great for trimming pubic and underarm hair. For me, those clippers have been a fantastic investment.

- I quit my Body Hair Laissez Faire ways while I was totally bald; I didn’t want my toe hair to be longer than my head hair. Vain, I know. Ha!

- Have you noticed that underarm hair seems more popular than leg hair? Am I imagining this? In my case, I’m more comfortable with armpit hair because 1) even the world’s foxiest armpit is nondescript, so what can a little hair hurt? and 2) I’m not thrilled with the shape or color of my legs; maintaining a smooth texture is the only control I can exert over ‘em. Also, legs have far more acreage than underarms, and may be more strongly associated with culturally mandated sexiness and acceptability.

- In case you’re wondering, Mr. Jaunty is not a real fan of body hair. I figure he’s only allowed to veto mine if I can veto his, so we both grow and shave whatever we like.

- Years ago, I dated a guy who loved women’s body hair. He always wanted me to let mine grow, and I could never bring myself to do it.

- So far, I cannot maintain long body hair for more than a few months, because I get bored and want a change. Same thing happened with head-shaving. Sure, I tell myself “from now on, I will remain bald!” or “from now on, I only want long hair!” or “I’m liberating myself from razors!” but I’m never right for long. My crush on variety and reinvention always trump matters of consistency or practicality.

 

When I shaved off all my body hair at the beginning of 2012, I was surprised by two things:

1) I actually missed my armpit hair and was disappointed by how boring armpits are. I’ve since regrown and re-shaved that hair several times.

2) I was truly shocked by how icky leg stubble feels. I’ve been shaving my legs for more than ten years, how did I forget the feeling of stubble in under three months?

There! More than you ever wanted to know about my hairiness. But I still want to know about you: male or female, have you ever taken up or abandoned shaving your body hair? Why? Are your body hair choices consistent, or are you a flip-flopper like me? What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without shaving?


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Comments

  1. Hey, I surfed over here from some fashion blog, I think? I’ve had very similar experiences with growing it all out. I liked/still like my pit hair and just shave it when I feel like it–sometimes every few days, sometimes every few months. I clearly remember the first time I noticed a woman’s pit hair when I was in college, and I was so irritated with how I reacted, like I had seen something dark and private and forbidden. The more I thought about it the more I wanted to get over it. But it was a few more years before I stopped shaving.

    I remained a hairy-legger for at least a year, maybe a year and a half. I would say I never really got used to my leg hair. It’s sparse and unruly, but since I’ve historically been VERY self-conscious about my legs, the real problem for me was anything calling extra attention to them–not the hair per se. So I went back to shaving. That said, I’m a super lazy leg-shaver and hardly shave at all in the winter.

    I think you’re absolutely right that if visible body hair were more acceptable for women, there would be an acceptability hierarchy of some kind. Heck, I even made one in my own head for my own hair. Pits cool, legs not cool.

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  2. I’m about to start laser hair removal (a story that I might dive into later, but I’m still wading through the mire of how I feel, how society reacts, and it’s a lot to unpack), and as result I’ve been letting some areas grow wild. Somewhat of a last hurrah.

    What I’ve quickly realized is when I was constantly working to remove hair, it’s presence and the possibility of others spotting its presence was much more thought-consuming than now, when I’m letting it do its thing. Whether this is because I know it’ll soon be gone and I won’t have to worry about it again, or because I’ve accepted its presence and that acceptance lets me stop fretting about others perceptions of it and me, I don’t know. But I do know that I suddenly care much less than I once did.

    When I was in school, I knew a girl who never shaved her legs and always wore shorts and skirts. And, at least for me, it was lovely to first notice her choice, and then move on and not think about it again. Lovely because I dug the way she presented herself, and also lovely because if it was such a non-issue for me and my perception of her, hopefully it was equally a non-issue for others if I was having a rather hairy day.

    All that said, I’m going to Zumba this evening with a big patch of dark hair under each arm and I’ll be curious to see if anyone reacts. I suspect we’ll all be too busy gyrating and trying to Samba without tripping.

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  3. P.S. J’adore that last photo of you. You’re just awesome.

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  4. My hair, armpit and leg, comes and goes. I don’t like leg stubble, but am not disciplined enough in my shower routine to keep smooth. Summer makes me shave more than normal — yep, society constraints. But I don’t mind going around with a little fuzz. My husband likes me both ways, with a little preference for smooth legs. So, I just go back and forth depending on the day! Flip-flopper too.

    Asian genes make me naturally less hairy on the body, and thick hair on top. :)

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  5. Definitely a flip-flopper here.
    Currently unshaved legs for maybe two months, but shaved my underarms about 15 minutes ago because….well because I don’t mind underarm hair, but something about my honeylamb affectionately stroking my hairy armpit kinda creeps me out. Funny,I never minded him affectionately stroking my buzz cut, and that was about the same length.

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  6. That last photo of you is stunning – you’re quite lovely, Rebekah!

    If I grew mine out, I would look like the chick in Tropic of Capricorn (or is it Cancer?) that Henry Miller bangs in the park…I think it’s his piano teacher. Hair all up her navel ~ yikes! To me, at least. It’s too hot down here in TN for all that hair. :) YOURS looks cute!

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  7. I haven’t shaved my legs for two years, or something like that. For some reason I didn’t write in my diary when I stopped. Since then I’ve toyed with shaving it twice, but my rebellious nature has made me stay away from the razor, because I want to be happy with my legs as they are. I’ve never had anyone mention them without me first bringing them up, which is possible because my leg hair is blonde. It’s also very unruly and often likes to stick straight out – ooh yeah.

    My underarm hair is something I’d love to stop shaving, but it’s dark like the hair on my head and to me is a great big deal compared to my legs. I wear sleeveless tops all the time, so I’d have to be fully comfortable with showing off my hair all the time, which I am not. Partly that is because of the conservative rural community that I live in; I’m hoping that when I visit the US in the next year or two I’ll be confident enough to go without shaving.

    I really liked this post, and I also dream of a world where body hair is really a personal choice like so many women claim it is today.

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  8. I seem to have inherited variable hair genes: fine, lighter-colored head hair, sparse eyelashes — but thicker, darker body hair that makes itself pretty noticeable against the pale skin of my legs.

    I’m a cyclic hair remover.

    The cycle length for my legs is generally in the several months to a year range, depending on how long until I think I can no longer pass without comment. In situations that are more conservative/formal and where I’m wearing a shorter skirt, I’m more likely to play it cautious and trim even if I’m not sure it’s so obvious yet. But even when I’m removing leg hair, it’s always a trim and never a shave anymore. I’d rather risk a little shadow than a lot of ingrowns.

    With my underarms, I always mean to trim instead of shave, but sometimes the razor is the handiest thing available. I tend to remove my armpit hair more often than my leg hair, probably because I am frequently in professional situations where I wear sleeveless tops but rarely in those where I can’t wear pants or long skirts.

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  9. I can’t even see your leg hair in that photo! I’m one of those ladies who could grow that much hair in a week — and I could probably grow more leg hair than you in a that time. I’m lackadasical at best about shaving, though I do tend to do it somewhat regularly in the summer (but usually go weeks, often months without shaving my legs in the winter). Pits are a different story to me, because even a moderate increase in pit hair makes me sweat considerably more. I’m already That Always Sweaty Lady all summer, and I’m not the slightest bit keen to exacerbate that.

    The Body Hair Heirarchy totally exists, though — pit hair is I think considered more socially acceptable than leg hair. Maybe it’s because pits are not considered sexy? (Though I’m sure some people do, it’s not A Thing) Maybe it’s because pit hair is contained, and thus tidier? Or it’s hidden away when one’s arms aren’t waving around? Or maybe it fits a certain aesthetic, where ladies still dress femme-y with a bit of rebellion in the pit hair, whereas leg hair is associated with unkemptness? Quick, someone get a sociologist!

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  10. I had the same feeling the first time I shaved my armpits after going au natural for awhile… it was like, whoa. I felt so naked and exposed, my immediate reaction was grow it out grow it out!!. Which is why I have only shaved it a couple of times (out of a need for that instant feeling of change that you get from cutting your hair…while trying to grow my head hair long, and I weird feeling that I was “refreshing” my armpit hair by cutting it off and growing it anew…ha) ever since I started, which was crazy enough 6 years ago!

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  11. Maven – Nice to meet you! I’ve been reading your blog, and I love your sense of style. Plus, I was a voice major in college AND I worry about my legs far more often than could possibly accomplish anything. Common ground, whoo! ANYWAY, my friend K. had a similar experience with discovering body hair— she say a girl’s long, dark armpit hair and was deeply embarrassed on the girl’s behalf… then asked herself “Wait, why the hell would I feel that way?”

    Katie of Interrobangs Anonymous – “What I’ve quickly realized is when I was constantly working to remove hair, it’s presence and the possibility of others spotting its presence was much more thought-consuming than now, when I’m letting it do its thing.”

    Agreed! I thought I had the darkest, thickest, nastiest happy trail in the world when I was younger and more afraid of being disgusting. Obviously, I was delusional. But then, most of my life’s stories end with “I was delusional.”

    I’ve been sitting on this post since DECEMBER because I was so uncomfortable with that last photo. It seemed (and still seems) equal parts “look at how sexy I am” and “good heavens, why didn’t someone tell me I have a crazy face?”

    Phoebe – Have you ever heard the phrase ‘fur in winter, silk in summer’? It’s a descriptor for seasonal body hair, can’t remember where I bumped into it. Seems practical, yes?

    “Asian genes make me naturally less hairy on the body, and thick hair on top. :)”

    You won the hair follicle distribution lottery!

    mum – “…something about my honeylamb affectionately stroking my hairy armpit kinda creeps me out. Funny,I never minded him affectionately stroking my buzz cut, and that was about the same length.”

    Location, location, location!

    I feel like my full-length armpit hair gets ‘in the way,’ despite the fact that it’s not actually in anything’s way. Tried keeping it trimmed to about half an inch, and that felt more reasonable.

    Chrissy – Thank you, ma’am! I’m not yet comfortable with the photo, but hell, I’m not yet comfortable with LIFE.

    Must refine my Image Search skillz— I’d like to see the Happy Trail in Question, but not enough to watch a whole movie.

    contrary kiwi – Greetings, O Maiden of Recent Baldness!

    “…I wear sleeveless tops all the time, so I’d have to be fully comfortable with showing off my hair all the time, which I am not.”

    Aren’t comfort zones fascinating? You have facial piercings and a shaved head, but are uncomfortable with armpit hair. I’m not trying to pick on you— we all have unpredictable comfort zones. I can shave my head, but I’m much more afraid of showing my legs. I can go a week without makeup, no problem, but I wouldn’t go anywhere without a bra. Different strokes!

    Tori – “In situations that are more conservative/formal and where I’m wearing a shorter skirt, I’m more likely to play it cautious and trim even if I’m not sure it’s so obvious yet.”

    This seems logical… but curse those conservative/formal environments for mucking up our plans!

    Millie – I really and truly did have at least 1/2″ of leg hair, but it was only visible to those with 1) great faith and 2) decent photography skills.

    “Or maybe it fits a certain aesthetic, where ladies still dress femme-y with a bit of rebellion in the pit hair, whereas leg hair is associated with unkemptness?”

    This makes the most sense to me. In some circles, armpit hair seems like a style statement, not just a political one, but I know fewer women onboard with visible leg hair. The older I get, the more I believe that eeeeeeverything will come into style eventually.

    Kelly – One of my body hair role models! I’ve had that same thought about ‘refreshing’ armpit hair, though I’ve thought it about head hair, too. I also feel a need to do SOME degree of grooming— so even if my leg/underarm hair were waving in the breeze, I’d keep trimming my pubic hair and plucking eyebrows. Part of me really likes the ‘self-care’ side of grooming, and part of me loathes the upkeep.

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  12. Rebekah, I’m just now seeing this is and it is full of all kinds of awesome. I’d noted on my thread (thanks for the shout-out!) that most women who had quit depilating described themselves as having light body hair, and as you note that is a form of privilege. But then I have to wonder about another point you make: Maybe our hairiest selves…aren’t that hairy? Like, maybe dark-haired women are overestimating how drastic fully grown leg hair would be?

    Also, if there were a return of the merkin I would, I dunno, DIE OF DELIGHT. Merkins!

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    Rebekah Reply:

    I was about to type “thank you, ma’am!” and then thought “wait, is Autumn more of a Miss? ‘Thank you, Ms.!’ doesn’t seem right… oh hey, maybe she’ll write a post about being called ma’am instead of miss someday!”

    The only two serious non-shavers I know have dark body hair (and head hair, for that matter), so that’s what I picture when I think of women with body hair.

    “Maybe our hairiest selves… aren’t that hairy? Like, maybe dark-haired women are overestimating how drastic fully grown leg hair would be?”

    This is my guess. So many women I talk to seem to think they’re soooo hairy, sooooo sweaty, and soooo homely without makeup… and I think all of those issues are much bigger in our minds and mirrors than they are in reality. But hairiness and hairless-ness are SO strongly coded, it’s hard to be nonchalant about whether or not to shave.

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